During a recent Dáil debate (3/10/17) Fianna Fáil spokesperson on fisheries, Pat the Cope Gallagher, asked Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, about the status of the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Deputy Gallagher noted that voisinage arrangements* between zero and six miles are part of the London Convention but “will no longer apply in Northern waters once the two years UK withdrawal notices expires in July 2019” and referred to the notice served by the UK in July 2017 that it was withdrawing from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention.
Minister Creed confirmed the Bill was in Second Stage debate in the Seanad but noted “considerable political opposition. When the minority government cannot get sufficient support for the legislation, it raises the question of whether the Bill can pass.
“It should be borne in mind that it is one of the areas that was identified in the Good Friday Agreement as an area suitable for all-island cooperation,” he said.
“If an Executive was in place in Northern Ireland, it would be particularly helpful because it might lead to a more rounded debate on the issue, he added.
*The voisinage arrangements are long-standing reciprocal arrangements which have allowed fishing boats from Northern Ireland access to fish within the zero to six nautical mile zone of the territorial waters of the State, and vice versa.
A Supreme Court judgment (October 27, 2016) found that fishing by Northern Ireland boats in these waters was not permitted by law, but upheld a High Court finding that the while the arrangements were not invalid, the arrangements were not sufficiently covered in domestic law.
Government subsequently approved the publication of the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill to address access for Northern Ireland vessels. If enacted and commenced, the Bill will give voisinage arrangements a proper legal footing.
The Bill was published in February 2017 and has commenced debate in the Seanad.